Featured image courtesy President.gov.lk

Last week, on October 12, President Maithripala Sirisena lashed out at independent commissions, in a speech that drew condemnation from many quarters.

This week, the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe has tendered her resignation.

Although she did not give a reason for her resignation, it appeared that the move was a reaction to Sirisena’s comments.

“There was an objective in setting up these independent commissions. Members of these commissions should know their limits. They must know the scope of their work,” he said while threatening to take “decisive action against those conspiring in corners.”

“In all these commissions, the secretaries and director-generals have been appointed by me. They have a duty to keep the chief executive (President) informed.”

News of her resignation was met with almost widespread condemnation, given that Sirisena was elected on a platform of good governance and transparency.

Executive Director of Transparency International, Sri Lanka, Asoka Obeyesekere speaking to Groundviews said three questions needed to be answered. The first, was whether the President needed to be informed of the investigations of independent commissions – as his comments suggested that he did.

“In light of the secrecy provisions of such investigations, the idea of the President being informed, or giving an informed opinion to base his criticism on is questionable.” Obeyesekere added that he had made an attempt to establish his standing for making such comments on the arrests of military personnel, for instance, as a former Defense Minister. “By that logic, the Health Minister would argue he had standing to interfere in any case involving a doctor, the Education Minister could argue standing in a case involving a teacher, and so on. So the premise that the President needs to be informed is fundamentally flawed” Obeyesekere said.

Commenting on the President’s threat to take action, he said “The only action he could take is to de facto set in motion the removal of a Commissioner. This could be construed as a veiled threat at best. If he doesn’t end up taking action, it is implicit that he can’t substantiate the claims he has made.”

Although the President also made some interesting arguments on equality before the law, which could be seen as an inherent good, such public utterances could be seen as a warning of some form of interference, and a gray area in terms of how independent commissions could operate and communicate. “When you start trying to frame arguments of independent commissions having to follow some ideas of protocol – you end up conflating issues in the political sphere, and imposing those protocols and hierarchies on independent commissions as well. Independent commissions shouldn’t be shackled by matters of protocol,” Obeyesekere said.

He further added that the President himself has recently faced allegations in a bribery scandal.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported company emails which showed Sirisena and his adviser demanding a political donation to be paid by the iconic Snowy Mountains Engineering Company (SMEC) when Sirisena was a Cabinet Minister.

The President has instructed the Attorney General to investigate these allegations. However, in light of the current interference, it would be difficult to expect objectivity in such investigation, Obeyesekere said.

The only way in which integrity would be maintained, is if the Director General’s resignation was rejected, he added. “In these situations, there is a tendency to assume that everything is bad. Yet, there are opportunities that can stem from the fact that when there is friction, independent commissions can consolidate and strengthen themselves”.

The only way for CIABOC to retain its integrity is for Wickramasinghe’s resignation to be rejected, and for the Commission to make a strong statement against any future political interference. This would however be a tacit acceptance that the allegations made by President Sirisena cannot be substantiated, Obeyesekere said.

Writer and columnist Nalaka Gunawardene said that the resignation was yet another indication that the promise of yahapaalanaya was going seriously awry. Speaking further, Gunawardene said it seemed the DG had “little choice” but to step down after the completely unwarranted remarks Sirisena made last week.

“With such public outbursts, President Sirisena is not only betraying everyone who voted for him, but worse, he is discrediting the very idea of a society where rule of law prevails, and every official is held accountable. All I can say, in dismay, is: Et tu, Maithri?” Gunawardene said.

Executive Director of the National Peace Council, Jehan Perera said the resignation came as a “shock.”

“The investigation of those who held high positions in the former and present government is bound to be controversial.  Choices have to be made in terms of which case to take up first and which to take up later.  We may prefer some cases to be taken up before others. The choices made can be seen by those who are at the receiving end to be politically motivated.  Anyone in the position of investigator would come under criticism for taking up one case rather than another.  This is a difficult job,” Perera said commenting on Sirisena’s comments that some of the probes were “politically motivated.”

 “Wickramasinghe was doing a difficult job better than anyone in recent history who has held that post. I hope her resignation is not accepted and she continues in her post.  I am hopeful that the political authorities will withdraw from their retrograde stands.  I think that the independence of the Commissions appointed under the 19th Amendment will become stronger as a result of the public attention that has been drawn to this matter,” Perera said.

Political analyst from Verite Research, Janeen Fernando said the impact of the resignation was particularly harmful for developing anti corruption institutions that are not just effective and independent, but also perceived as such by the public. “The Bribery Commission, unlike other special bodies such as the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC), is the only key permanent anti-corruption institution. If the Government fails to support the commission in becoming effective and independent, it is unlikely that the country will see a break in established patterns of corruption and public confidence in the government’s ability to deliver on the mandate of good governance will also suffer,” Fernando said.

As the news spread, political factions began to weigh in. A carefully worded statement purporting to be from Speaker Karu Jayasuriya‘s office said there would be “no room” given by the Speaker or Prime Minister for political interference into the work of independent commissions. Responding to reports that Sirisena’s statements highlighted a split within the Government, the statement added that there was no such division of thinking between the President or Prime Minister.  JHU National Organiser Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe for instance, charged that Wickremasinghe had resigned to avoid the fallout from investigating the Central Bank bond scam, particularly as explosive documents leaked last week (which the Central Bank conceded were accurate) pointed to members of the Monetary Board and senior officials of Public Debt at the Central Bank. SLFP’s Dilan Perera meanwhile said it looked like “the hat fit” although the President didn’t specifically single out the Director General in his speech.

Former secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media, Charitha Herath said he felt the Director General of CIABOC’s resignation was incomprehensible and said there should have been consultation with the President before making such a move. “Of course an officer can’t make a reply to a public meeting, but political leaders should be dealt with in a consultative manner,” Herath said. He further said the President had the people’s mandate, and so should have been consulted. “Those governing represent the people, and have their mandate. Now, civil society organizations are criticizing and think they are equal to the elected leaders” Herath said.

Herath’s comments echo what many of the political parties said in the wake of Wickremasinghe’s resignation – but many do not feel the same way.

Groundviews has compiled some of the immediate reactions and coverage on Twitter, using Bundlr, which can be viewed here, or below:

The reactions range from applauding her courage to expressing increased disillusionment with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.

Initial news reports noted that the President’s Secretary P B Abeykoon had accepted the Director General’s resignation but uncertainty continues to prevail, as the President returned from the BRICS summit in India last evening. It has been reported that his final decision will be made today (October 18).

It is ironic, however, that it was President Sirisena who enacted the legislation allowing for the function of independent commissions such as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption, the Police Commission, and others, through the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. While he pointed out during his fiery speech that he did in fact appoint many of the heads of the Independent Commissions, it is pertinent to note that nowhere in the amendment is it specified that he should be consulted in any way in their operations. His comments with regards to this, therefore are not just surprising but also worrying.

Those who enjoyed this post may find “One year of Yahapaalanaya: the Highs and Lows” and “Independent Commissions a huge Hoax” instructive.

  • Gamini H

    I endorse Charitha’s view fully regarding the role of civil societies.

  • Jayalath

    The resignation of director of bribery commissioner raises many questions among the public .some says it is a distinctive step of democracy and others say it is a big blow to the democracy and to the on going corruption investigations . However , the intention or the central reason of her resignation is still a secret and unknown to the public . Therefore ,
    I suppose , what ever the reason or the cause of her resignation that should be benefit to the country . Which is the whole hearted hope of public .
    We know number of time main opposition party ,Rajspaksa faction claimed to be stood against the colossal corruption charges as on going investigations directed only towards Rajapaksa faction and they thought it is to be an organised harassment and heinous crime .
    Truthfully , While carefully observing the whole crisis one thing was quite clear from the beginning that is the whole system and the country is rapidly falling apart , which can be vastly seen in the economic areas in the country . Also the noticeable wide spread of uncertainty and anarchism Can be seen daily . It is like a volcano about to erupt .
    so this latest out come we face today did not happen over night which is a result of perpetual disharmony of power greedy great conspirators led by the some members of both PA and UNP traitors on January 2015 .
    I have said this before including many other neutral analysts Who portended the out come At the beginning of great conspiracy ,but the all time bigots who live with us did not heed about the grave consequences that could occur near future . Never the less , the country is in a trouble .and falling apart , Who can lift the country now from this deteriorating situation to safe direction . This is the question

  • Jayalath

    It seems to me president Sirisena and his fellow ministers absolutely gone nuts , because I watched news today and where Rajitha revealed what happened when Mrs ,Dilrukshi came to meet mr. President Sirisena to discuss a matter related to Dubai bank account which was held by Rajspaksa and he said that Rajapaksa withdrew 500 million . ( assuming dollars )
    So, then Rajapaksa called president Sirisena within a hour and asked about given endorsement to find about his money in Dubai account . Could any one on earth believe this ??
    1) Rajitha is a liar and no one cannot believe what ever come from his mouth
    2) he has more corruption allegations than any one else , and he never faced court .
    3)Rajitha and president Sirisena says things about Rajapaksa , but never has proven single thing . This is the truth .
    4) these clowns will not believe by people any more .
    5) according to the revaluation , if Sirisena knew about Rajspksa’s possessing money in the Dubai accounts and he did not do anything about it until now is the biggest scam and he must tell the truth to the public .
    6) whole European Union granted only 200 billion dollars to Sri Lankan government yet . but it seems to be Rajspaksa having billions in the foreign accounts , so why can’t do some thing to bring those money to the country and use on the developments, because you are the government have power to do so.
    7)500 million dollars mean , more than twice the money given to us by European Union , and the total cost for Colombo Katunsyaka motor way was 350 dollars , so it seems to be Rajapaksa has robbed from us few billions .
    I can laugh my head off when I listen to these clowns ., I only can’t see why they don’t feel shame themselves .
    Isn’t it ridiculous to mislead the people with baseless allegation . I feel now every body struggling to justify what president said without thinking far as a president of a country

    • Read Ceylon Today’s interview with Dilrukshi, https://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20160701CT20161030.php?id=7841

      • Jayalath

        I have no objection toward her statement which is fine ,but I never ever thought in my life that judges in the court possibly can be forced to incline toward political interest of individuals , which I heard from the mouth of renown lawyer mr. Hemantha warnakulasuriya who has been stating about this matter recently .after I heard his latest revelation , of course I have completely lost the faith on every thing in Sri Lanka . As he says , if the judges of court can be bent according to political interest that I would not trust or believe any thing else in this poor country . I’m utterly lost . I have no way to emit my stress and anger . It seems to me regardless a party or person or the government that total areas of the country and whole structure is abused by number of politicians time to time . Is it not an unfortunate of the country??? In such circumstances that I speak about . Mrs. Dilrukshi is just a waste of time .
        This country needs a well clean sweep on every corner . Unless , loosing priceless lives to the mother Sri Lanka tomorrow would not be inevitable. I’m devastated

  • lekam

    Yes, this is totally against the January 18th mandate . But she is also lost the credibility with same line with FCID by only investigated joint opposition members on small scale things. If she taken at-least Mega fraud like CB bond issue people would stand by her and She would be a star in our time. I also agree with Mr. Herath on way of she tendered her resignation.

  • Fitzpatrick

    Can someone enlighten me if she ever investigated the bond scandal?
    Was it outside her purview?

      • Fitzpatrick

        Thanks for the link. She has made her case. Her interview reminds me of Shirani B’s interview when she was ousted.

        In that case she made it out like that she was a innocent and pure. Those who had followed her accent to the top of the courts from being an acdemic (and student of GLP) knew otherwise.

        I wonder if that is the case here or is she as pure as she claims ?